Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, February 25th, 2019

On the Plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the Dawn of Victory, sat down to wait, and waiting — died!

George W. Cecil

S North
E-W ♠ 10
 9 5 4 3
 A Q 8 5 2
♣ K J 7
West East
♠ Q J 9 8 3
 10 7 6
 10 3
♣ 6 5 4
♠ 6 5 4 2
 A Q J 2
 K J 9
♣ 8 3
♠ A K 7
 K 8
 7 6 4
♣ A Q 10 9 2
South West North East
1 NT Pass 2 ♣ Pass
2 Pass 3 NT All pass


How would you handle the North hand after using Stayman and failing to find a heart fit? The simple route to follow is to bid three no-trump. A more prudent route would be to bid three diamonds, suggesting game-forcing values and a doubt about strain or level. In other words, either one major is a concern or North has interest in higher things.

If North had chosen the diamond call, South would have signed off in three no-trump because he has both majors stopped — but you can easily imagine that South’s spade ace-king could be the ace of hearts and diamond king, in which case North-South might make slam in a minor but go down in three no-trump.

That said, after a top spade lead against three no-trump, how should South play? Declarer has eight sure tricks and needs a ninth from one of the red suits. In which order should he go about playing those suits? The answer is slightly counterintuitive, in that he must try a heart toward the king first, and fall back on the diamond finesse if necessary.

Yes, technically, playing a heart could allow the defenders to run four tricks on him — even five tricks on a really terrible day. But the point is that South can afford to lose four heart tricks. He can still fall back on taking the diamond finesse sooner or later, for his contract.

By contrast, if declarer takes the diamond finesse and it loses, there is no fallback position. The defenders set up spades and are ready to win the heart ace and cash out.

This is a tough one! Should you double hearts, then bid spades? I think so, since even if your right-hand opponent has length in hearts, that might be your best suit. Double hearts for penalty and then bid spades if the opponents find a fit in a minor suit. Whether you should bid spades or jump in that suit may depend on just how the bidding develops.


♠ 6 5 4 2
 A Q J 2
 K J 9
♣ 8 3
South West North East
  1 Dbl. 1

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Bill CubleyMarch 11th, 2019 at 3:16 pm

In the play of the Diamond suit I lead the six or the four so I endplay RHO rather than LHO promoting values in diamonds. Players tend to cover when you lead high and duck when you lead what appears to be low. A little lying is always part of the game. 😉

bobbywolffMarch 11th, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Hi Bill,

While I am a trifle bewildered about your comment, concerning likely the ace of hearts being offside, losing to West (after I had led a club to dummy) and then a spade coming back before I take my last chance on the diamond king also being with West, that line of play is almost surely being the one to select.

However the choice of what diamond to lead from hand, especially at this point, is not likely to matter, instead only on the cut and dried, of which opponent, holds the king.

Perhaps if I held the jack of diamonds, yes I may lead it instead and immediately to induce a duck, but I sincerely doubt that would help and if so perhaps the king of hearts will result in trick #9 just in case East, not West held the ace (such as on this hand) with the diamond finesse in reserve.

However, in regard to a little lying may always be part of declarer’s play, the only more complete discussion would announce that the only thing better is a great deal of lying, that is, if it helps the end result.

TedMarch 11th, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Hi Bobby,

In a recent Team game this hand prompted a number of questions. Partner in first seat opens:

2C 2D Dbl* P *fewer than 2 controls
3C P 3H P
4H all Pass

Partner’s hand: AKxx AQ10 — AKQJ10x
My hand: Qx J97xx Q9xx xx

Small Diamond lead, ruffed.
HQ lead taken by HK. Making 6 when Hearts broke 3-2.
If the HQ holds the trick, what’s the best way to proceed?
Would the answer be different if in 6?

On the start of this auction, should a 3D response to 3C be played as a second negative, a cue bid with club agreement, a stopper for NT or something else?

Is there a better way to bid these hands?

Many thanks

bobbywolffMarch 11th, 2019 at 7:10 pm

Hi Ted,

Every move you and partner made would and should measure up. I, of course, am a confirmed optimist and, if holding the barn burner hand, after partner bid 3 hearts I would just jump to 6 hears or, possibly a little more conservative, particularly at matchpoints, 6 clubs,

Yes I will need to catch one key card from partner outside of diamonds, even possibly the nine of clubs, but since there is no way to be sure of anything, I usually take the high road and hope to continue that practice the rest of my bridge career.

Questions like 2nd negatives are for partner’s to discuss and you seem experienced enough to make keen decisions.

Yes, having a double negative in a contested auction is important and I think an original double of the intervention is the best and most effective way to handle t0hat conundrum.

Good luck and keep on picking up those kinds of hands, but instead switch to money bridge for high stakes, rather than playing for masterpoints.